Quotidian Update 4,903.a.2x.8

Frondescence? Leaves. It’s just green. All of it everywhere. All over the damned place, and I have to mow some of it. Soon, it looks like, but last time I got by with three weeks. Longer grass sends down deeper roots, good for the lawn in the long run.

The trees are green and sending branches over my yard that I have to cut down. The egregious weed-elms are popping up all over, and I have to pull them out because in about 15 minutes they become big-ass trees that are a big-ass problem. I have four of those to deal with, too. Home ownership? The ONE advantage is big dogs. I get the whole condo thing now in ways I never got it before. Building equity is a young person thing.

It’s funny when you retire no one hands you a list of the changes in your life and perspective that are likely to happen.

But there is the other side which is that it’s continually amazing to me that I can put a nearly microscopic seed into a peat pot and two little leaves will emerge. At that point, my nurturing instinct kicks in, and I start caring for those little beings as IF they had souls or could become president someday. The grim reality of their future lives — that they’re going to end up in caprese — and somewhere down the road the frost is going to get them, plays no role in the early spring ritual of “I wonder if I dare put them out before June?”

Of course, one or two DO go out before June and the results are always the same.

I’m not a “gardener” per se. I don’t care what my flowers look like. I’m not an ardent cultivator of my garden beds. It’s really too painful. Nothing really hurts my arthritic knees more than bending over to take care of anything. This summer I’ve seen that I have to do something about this, but this is not, obviously, the summer for that.

Everything out there this year is very happy. They turn their little solar collectors to the sun that hits my narrow strip of garden and they grow. They’ve helped me see what to do with my yard when I’m ready to ($$$). I’ve seen that I didn’t need a deck except to define the space and to help my neighbors financially. I don’t use it and don’t imagine I ever will, much. I haven’t even put up the umbrella. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it — I like it a lot. But what I like most is hanging around the bean plants.

Now, my favorite poem by Li Bai who is now approaching 8 feet tall…

Visiting Han-tan: The Dancers at the Southern Pavilion

They sang to me and drummed, the boys of Yen and Chao,
Lovely girls plucked the sounding string.
Their painted cheeks shone like dazzling suns;
The dancers’ sleeves shook out like blossoming boughs.
Bringing her wine I approached a handsome girl
And made her sing me songs of Han-tan>
Then the lutes were played, and coiling away and away
The tune fell earthward, dropping from the grey clouds.
Where is the Prince of Chao, what has he left
But an old castle-moat where tadpoles breed?
Those three-thousand knights that sat at his board,
Is there one among them whose name is still known?
Let us make merry, get something in our own day
To set against the pit of ages yet unborn.

Li Bai (trans. Arthur Waley)


Love Letter to the Big Empty

End of Day in the Big empty

The painting is End of Day in the Big Empty. Some pretty amazing oil paint in this painting. The gray in the sky, the gray-blue in the mountains and the blue in the water are all the ultramarine blue made of lapis lazuli called sometimes “Lazurite.” I was afraid to start this painting but at every turn it seemed that color was offering to help me. I really love it. You can see all the fantastic things it can do.

The bright blue in the sky is cerulean blue hue by Gamblin; hue means it’s pre-mixed with white. The intense, joyous yellow in the background, where the late afternoon sun has broken through the clouds, is Indian yellow over-painted with flake white replacement. Flake white is an old, old color known also as lead white. Gamblin came up with a way to make a very close approximation without lead. I really didn’t see the differences in whites until I did the very snowy painting. I’ve discovered doing this painting why people loved lead white so much. It’s just “friendly.”

The green in the trees and the brown in the foreground are both from my collection of natural pigments — the green is Verona Earth (natural green ochre from the Lessinian hills) and the brown is Cyprus Umber (dirt from Cyprus). Toning down the Indian yellow is Iron Violet, made from water pollution, by Gamblin Oil Paints. It’s a fantastic color and has a big part in this painting. Along with toning down the Indian yellow, it’s the purple in the mountains, the sky and the water and the reeds toward the back of the pond. I hope they keep making it.

The painting is 20 x 16 inches on panel.

Painting this was more than just doing a painting. It was an incredible experience. I cried when I finished. So strange. Then this came on Mohammed’s Old click wheel iPod.

Possibilities Arrive in the Mail

Yesterday I got GREAT mail, not any diamonds or rubies, but some great stuff appeared in my maimed mailbox. I got my fishing license which will allow me to take the dogs to the Wildlife Areas when they open next week.

Colorado has a new law that’s due to the increased traffic of people going, “Holy shit, the mall is closed! What are we going to do?” The new law could provide additional revenue and/or keep people off the trails. Initially I was, “What????” But it turned out to be a good deal — under $10 for seniors and to my delight part of that money goes to search and rescue. Compared to California this is a bargain. In many parks and wildlife areas in California, people pay $5 at the door and there IS a door. Not in most of the places I hiked, but lots of places especially those where people actually want to go such as Mount Palomar campground and the trail up to the observatory, and, naturally, various trails in the Redwoods.

After working for a wilderness park, doing trail rehabilitation and organizing volunteers to help with maintenance on heavily used trails, I’m all for keeping ignorant people off trails. I think schools should offer — require — a class in “How to go outside and visit natural landscapes with respect for and consideration of wildlife, plant-life and the ground you walk on.”

I got a new mask. It’s very special and I like it a LOT. It is snowflakes on a winter-sky-blue background with fog and glitter that looks like ice crystals in the air. I don’t think anyone likes wearing a mask. To avoid it I just don’t spend much time where I need one. I go to the store every two weeks and in all this time I’ve made one trip to the vet. Masks are hot and make my glasses steam up and they are, for all of us, reminders of the ubiquitous treachery of a semi-living thing floating around that could hurt us.

It’s weird in these times because what I’m doing right now is actually preserving my life through the choices I have to make. Sometimes I wonder “What the hell is going on?” and then I remember the point of it all which is really December when I can reasonably expect the first snow. It could be sooner, but I see no reason for hoping with reckless abandon which would be snow on Hallowe’en, or throwing caution to the wind and expecting snow in September. It could all happen, but… This little mask looks like the world I’m saving my life for. It’s really that. I just want to go skiing.

Yesterday’s mail also brought the Willow Creek Journal. The Willow Creek Journal is a little literary magazine put out by the Creede Arts Council. It’s a beautiful publication, and I have had paintings published in it two years in a row, including this volume. My painting — Rio Grande in January. — is on the last page. On the same page is a little poem — “Zoetrope (Girl on Skis)” by Wayne Sheldrake. It’s a poem about seeing a girl/woman cross country skiing in the back country and catching her image as she skied a tree-lined trail. I had to look up “zoetrope.” I recognized the word, but it was way back in the convoluted back chambers of my brain, something my brother would say, but its meaning? Lost, lost, lost. It’s perfect, though, for his poem.

Here’s his poem:

From a shuffle
of piked trees,
(still-life on white),
a swiftlet blue
swiftlet of blue
ignited by snowshoe slope
quickened through ice-platinum shadow.

She strobed St. Elmo bright
and lighter than gravity,
through the frozen trees,

like a bird
a strange bird
that knows many secrets
(the invisible looms
and wickets of sylvan
winter flight).

As she turned,
darted away,
bent for open
ice-platinum air,
the trees, bestirred,
sighed with me.

Wayne Sheldrake

The mail was full of promises and reminders of things I love most and I am grateful. I hike at the Wildlife Areas in winter so I can visit the frozen river, a river depicted in my published painting.


One Hundred Dogs and Counting by Cara Sue Achterberg: Book Review


In 2019 Cara Achterberg set out to learn the reality of animal rescue in parts of America where even people often struggle to make a good life. Her hope in writing her second dog book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and A Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, is that the stories will stimulate people to foster dogs, volunteer at their local shelters and do whatever is in their power to improve the lives of dogs who, for what ever reason, find themselves without humans of their own. Cara fosters dogs for OPH, Operation Paws for Homes, a foster-based rescue in Chesterfield, Virginia.

One Hundred Dogs and Counting is filled with heroic characters, hopeless situations, and wonderful dogs, many of whom have no chance at a good life in a loving home. It is a detailed collection of personal experiences derived from Cara’s journeys to visit dog rescues, shelters and, yes, pounds in some of the most economically depressed regions in America. One Hundred Dogs and Countingasks the important, serious question. Do dogs in rural animal shelters suffer and die “…because [people] don’t care or because they don’t know?”


The most basic question the book seeks to answer is “how do dogs end up in shelters?” There is a variety of reasons, but it’s often just because the dog’s people aren’t up to the job. Not all dogs are “good dogs” right away. Training a dog needs patience, optimism and time — and sometimes a professional. As Cara writes, “So many people want a “turnkey” dog, one that requires very little of them. A dog who is housebroken, crate-trained, good on a leash, loves everyone, listens perfectly, doesn’t chase cats or deer or squirrels, one that, effectively, doesn’t act like a regular dog. Turnkey dogs are rare. And they don’t happen without a lot of work.” 

In One Hundred Dogs and Counting Cara paints a vivid picture of the effect of human poverty on domestic animals. Still, human poverty is not the only driver leading dogs to be abandoned. “Much of [what I was seeing in these shelters] was a culture problem. I was learning that many people in rural, poor areas simply did not value their pets. Dogs were more like livestock…they weren’t as much pets as property. ‘It’s just a dog/cat’ was a phrase we heard again and again.”

Poverty, culture, and something more; gentrification.

Visiting a sad shelter in Shelbyville, Tennessee, Cara asked a deputy sheriff why he thought so many dogs ended up there. 

“He offered an interesting perspective I hadn’t considered. He said that the history of dogs in rural areas was that people owned large pieces of land and the dogs roamed freely, but as development came to Shelbyville, open, unoccupied spaces filled up as neighborhoods and businesses came in. Yet many people continued to allow their dogs to roam free as they always had. More run-ins with people, more contact with other (unsterilized) dogs led to more Animal Control calls, more dogs seized, and more unwanted puppies…there never seemed to be an end or even a slow-down. When would all the dogs be safe?”

One Hundred Dogs and Counting


As bleak as many of these stories are, One Hundred Dogs and Counting focuses on the success stories and positive steps to change the dark, nearly overwhelming, situation in these shelters — or shelters anywhere — where dogs languish in filth and disease waiting for death.

Cara writes, “…an animal shelter is a service to the community.” Mixed among the many stories of over-crowded shelters where dogs suffer until they’re euthanized or, miraculously, adopted, Cara writes about the magic effected by Kristin Reid, a passionate woman in Tennessee. The Cheatham County Animal Control “…is an open-intake shelter with a tiny budget of only $60,000 a year, yet for all intents and purposes, Kristin [the director] has managed to turn it into a no-kill shelter, even if she doesn’t have that status officially. She works hard to move dogs out through rescues, which allows her to work with some of the harder to place dogs longer.” 

What Cara describes is amazing. 

“After tackling the shelter building, animal care, and staffing, Kristin set her sights on rebuilding the respect and support of her community. Instead of focusing on what she didn’t have—volunteers, money, community support, or a fancy building—she instead looked at what she did have—plenty of land in a beautiful part of the country. The shelter sits on one side of the Cumberland River and most of its community is on the other side. To reach the shelter, you have to drive over one of the bridges and follow the long, winding road that Nancy and I had just traveled. Kristin needed something to draw the people to the shelter. 

Kristin set to work creating trails through their woods and began a rock- painting program. The staff and fledgling volunteer program began painting and placing rocks with positive messages on the trails. Then they invited the public to come and hike, paint a rock and place it, or find a rock and take it home. She enlisted the local high-school students to create storyboards and post them along the trails, giving young families even more incentive to come to the shelter. The only price for using their beautiful, interactive trails? Walking an adorable, adoptable shelter dog! Talk about a win-win. I loved it and was fast becoming a member of the Kristin Reid fan club.”

One Hundred Dogs and Counting


One of the keys to saving dogs, as Cara has written persuasively and demonstrated in her own life, is fostering. Fostering dogs takes them out of shelters leaving room for more dogs to be taken off the streets and placed where they might get some of the help and care they need. 

People who are able to invite dogs into their homes and lives until the dog finds its people are unusually big-hearted and emotionally brave. “…people fostering dogs all over our country [are] connected by an invisible web spun from our shared passion…All these dog-hearted people, working together, [is] the only way it was possible to save so many lives.” 

Maybe every dog owner has a favorite breed, and Cara’s heart goes out to pit bulls, though, she insists, there is no such breed and she’s right. It’s a “look” with a bad reputation. She describes one encounter at a high-kill shelter that marked the kennel cards of dogs who were to be euthanized with a large “X.” 

“I lingered outside the kennel of Sheba, a cute black puppy with a white nose. She was friendly and eager and grateful for the treats I passed through the fence. I looked past the enormous X scrawled across her kennel card and read that she was six months old and picked up as a stray and had no bite history. And then I saw her crime. She was a pit bull mix. …Ultimately, OPH would save Sheba. She would…prove to be a delightful foster dog and get adopted faster than most. But would we have been as convicted to save Sheba if she didn’t have an X on her kennel card?”

One Hundred Dogs and Counting

This is not an easy book to read, and it shouldn’t be. “…Words were my only weapon in this war to save dogs, and what I saw each day of the tour only sharpened my sword.”


One Hundred Dogs and Counting is dedicated to her beloved blue-eyed pit bull, Frankie, a dog she had rescued, the dog of Cara’s heart. Frankie had to be put down during the interval in which Cara was visiting these shelters and seeing one bully dog after another, good dogs with wide smiles and wagging tails and no chance of adoption. I know that Cara was reluctant even to think of another dog. She found it hard to believe that the sad space in her heart could open again after Frankie, but a little brown dog, covered with excrement, cold and neglected in one of the worst shelters, was waiting for her.

In my experience as an owner of many dogs over the years, almost all of them rescues, adopted after the loss of a beloved friend, the dog who is meant to be ours recognizes us before we recognize them. ❤

“She wiggled her butt and danced around as I led her back to her kennel, as if trying to convince me to take her somewhere else instead. On a whim, I asked Trisha if we could get a video of her with another dog, just in case I could talk somebody at OPH into rescuing her, even though I knew that person would likely be me. Trisha pulled out the blond dog from the back and we introduced them. My little girl, who I was calling Fanny, only wanted to play. We caught it on video, and I hoped it would be enough to convince the powers that be that she was dog-friendly. I didn’t want to put Fanny back in her kennel to die. Why couldn’t I just take her with me? Sensing my hesitation, she glanced up with at me with impossibly sad eyes, even though her tail never wavered. 

“I’m sorry, girl,” I whispered as I opened her kennel gate. She walked slowly inside and then lay down against the fence, watching as Trisha sprayed out another kennel. We moved all the dogs to clean runs, gave them fresh water, and fed them before reluctantly leaving. Later, when I talked to [my husband] Nick on the phone, I told him about the little brown dog. There was something about her that touched my heart, it was as if I knew her already. Her pain was my pain. I would study the pictures Ian [Cara’s son] took of her and those eyes would haunt me for months.”

One Hundred Dogs and Counting

Cara’s broken heart fully opened for that little brown dog, and Fanny now lives with Cara and her husband, Nick, at their home in Pennsylvania. Fanny is a bundle of life and love and is the BEST friend of every foster dog who spends time in their family home.


The net result of these difficult journeys? 

“If my trips south had taught me anything, it was that this problem was fixable. It will take all of us. Every person can do something. In this country where we love dogs to an extreme, spending millions on grooming and dog walkers and daycare, there is no shortage of people who care about dogs or have money to be spent on dogs. There are solutions, but the first step is awareness.” 

One Hundred Dogs and Counting


One Hundred Dogs and Counting is available on Amazon or contact the author at any of the links below.

You can learn more about Cara’s journey on her website, Who Will Let the Dogs Out. Some of the proceeds of the book go to Operation Paws for Homes (OPH). The book is also beautifully illustrated with photos from the journey and the dogs Cara met. ❤

In her first dog book, Another Good DogCara tells about her experiences with the first fifty dogs she fostered. To learn more about Cara’s fostering and rescue efforts, enjoy her stories and lovely writing — Cara also writes fiction! — visit her blog, Another Good Dog  

“Where am I???”

I subscribe to a magazine (paper) called Colorado Central Magazine. It’s published in the small city of Salida which is just over Poncha Pass from me, about 1 1/2 hours north. It has more text than photos and is printed on news print. Most of the writers are baby boomers and they are thoughtful, well-educated people. It’s supported by local advertising and subscription and focuses on history, current events, opinion of the geographically large region it covers — including the San Luis Valley.

When I began the year I had rather impetuously begun a (hopeless) financial austerity program because everything gets more expensive and my house payment went up. Good that property values increased here in the back of beyond, bad that means higher property taxes for me. I cancelled my subscription, but they kept sending issues every month and I realized if it really DID stop coming, I’d miss it!

The most recent issue has an article titled, “If you don’t know where you are,” (Wendell) Berry wrote, “You don’t know who you are.”

Yeah. That’s the title. The article is written by a guy named Peter Anderson, a retired teacher, who lives in Crestone — a mountain town in the Sangre de Cristos known mostly for having an ashram, being “spiritual,” and somewhat arty-farty. It’s locus of a nude hot spring — Valley View — where you can watch, on a summer evening, Colorado’s ONLY fireflies and you can witness the migration of Mexican bats.

The article talks about what it means to be a “placed person,” that’s someone who IS where they ARE. I found that a captivating idea.

The writer explains that Wallace Stegner (about whom the article was written, in spite of the title) regarded being a “placed person” as understanding, “…by way of the senses, the memory and one’s history” where you are. The author explains that “Knowledge of a place as Stegner understood it, comes from ‘working in all its weathers’ and ‘loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons’. This kind of knowing, Stegner said, requires, ‘Human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry’.” The author comments further that, “This kind of noticing takes time and it takes a tendered and patient disposition, which is why a settled life in one location does not necessarily result in a placed person.”

I haven’t read Wallace Stegner. I’m sure something he wrote passed through my world at some point and didn’t grab me. I’ve learned that he’s categorized with other “western writers” including Larry McMurtry, whose work I love, and Edward Abbey, whose work I love more. Looking at some of his work on Amazon through the miracle of “Look inside!!!” I see why I might just have let Stegner go.

As my mind wandered through this meandering article (leading to this meandering blog post) I thought, “Yeah, but dude. Your title quotes Wendell Berry, not Wallace Stegner. I’m so confused.” I shrugged and let it go. I’d been given something to think about and in these times that’s something to be grateful for.

I thought about that quotation all day yesterday, thinking of writing this, about how in my life it’s been true. I WANT to know where I am because the best thing that happened in my life was learning to BE in the Southern California chaparral. The lesson I got there was really and truly, “Be here now.” Every after-school jaunt onto those narrow dirt trails was a journey from the relentless, repetitive idiocy of competitive human life and struggle to the real deal of snakes emerging from holes in the earth at dusk and the barn owls coming out to hunt them.

Painting in progress — here part of my way of “being” here seems to be painting it.

Featured photo: From one of the volumes of The Examined Life sometime in the early 2000s, written in gold ink. 🙂


Signs of the Times

It was a bleak “Independence” day, though I managed to redeem it by starting a painting and walking my dog.

Bear is doing a lot better with the meds, and we took a walk after the golf course closed last evening. I always feel like I’m getting by with something when I’m out there during golf season, like I’m sticking it to the man. There was only one truck parked in the lot, two carts fussing around somewhere, and sprinklers running on the driving range and on the fourth and fifth holes so I don’t think we really were engaged in an act of outright defiance. I wish I’d remember my anti-mosquito bandana though. OH WELL.

As one might expect, it was totally uneventful and I am grateful for that. Life has been extraneously eventful enough.

When we got back home, a little dog was running down the alley across the high way. He seemed lost and confused, but I was in no position to help him out. I sneaked Bear in through the garage and then went out front to see if I could catch him. I didn’t see him.

What I did see is that my neighbor two doors down — in addition to his “Save America! Vote Republican!” yard sign — has hung in front of his house an immense American flag and an equally immense Trump 2020 flag. They are hanging vertically in front of the covered porch. It’s one of those things that you hope Google earth happens to glide by so it’s recorded for posterity.

I decided not to let it affect the after effects of a nice walk with my dog, the fact that she is clearly walking better and feeling happier. I did think, though, that years ago first, no one was likely to put up a display like that for a presidential candidate on the 4th of July no less. Then, while people might disagree about the person they wanted to win the election, they were unlikely to fight about it.

I listened to bits of OFFAL’s speech at Mt. Rushmore and was horrified. I listened to bits of OFFAL’s 4th of July speech and was further horrified. As I thought about my neighbor’s flags I wondered why he wasn’t horrified, too. I wondered why he hadn’t heard the dishonesty, the race baiting, the ignoring of the palpable reality of a wandering virus that was deadly for many people and maimed forever many more. I wondered why OFFAL has never spoken directly about the bounty the Russians paid for the deaths of American soldiers. I wondered how all of this is swept under the rug and NOTHING HAPPENS. I wondered how ANYONE likes him at this point, but people do.

I imagined this grizzled old guy (he’s my age +) sitting in his house smoking cigarettes watching Fox News, and I think I got a pretty good picture of his life. Last time I spoke with him — the only time I spoke with him — he said he just didn’t feel like going out anywhere or talking to anyone. His wife had died the previous year and he had had a stroke soon thereafter. He’s fine. The stroke didn’t leave him with physical disabilities, so he’s very lucky in that.

I might be completely wrong, and this might be an utterly ignorant analysis, but as I remember it, back in the day, the president was a guy Americans hired to do a job so we could get on with our lives which didn’t involve constantly paying attention to the president. Whichever party he came from, I think we expected him to be competent and reliable, even if we didn’t like the guy. Or maybe that’s just what I want in a leader.

Anyway, I won’t be putting up any yard signs for any candidates, not even state legislature. I’ve decided to hold my cards to my chest and wear a resolute poker face around this whole thing. “Never discuss politics or religion,” my dad advised long ago. “You’ll end up making enemies of friends.” He was right. Political signs today are not information about voting or advertising. In our sadly divided nation, they are invitations to a fight.


Stopping Traffic — Green Eyes in China

Before we went to China, several people, including my Chinese teacher, told us that people would stare at us. I thought it would be 6-foot, blue-eyed Jim (the Good X) who would draw all the attention, but it wasn’t. No one told me I would be the one who would stop traffic.

We were on our way to the Friendship Store near the Baiyun Hotel. Nearing the spot where we’d transfer to a tram, we made our way to the back doors of Bus 22 and waited for it to stop. When the doors opened, people began streaming in before anyone could get off the bus. It was early in our year, and, coming from Colorado, we weren’t yet accustomed to public transportation and especially not to crowds of people pushing and shoving. 

That day an old woman from the countryside happened to look up and saw my eyes. She stopped on the steps of the bus, pointed, and cried out, in Cantonese, “Like a cat!” She froze where she stood, looking frightened, blocking the door, causing a traffic jam of bodies.

Jim had made it out, but I was trapped inside. To prevent an incident, the bus driver closed the doors and took off. I got off at the next stop and walked back. 

Over time, I think “my” city got used to seeing us around. That never happened again in Guangzhou.

I knew I was the opposite in appearance of every Chinese person. Curly, reddish hair, freckles, green eyes? It’s a look that has been regarded with suspicion all over the world, not just in the People’s Republic of China.

As the months went by, and the only foreign faces I saw were those of my brown-eyed, dark-haired Irish colleague Ruth and my husband Jim, I more or less forgot my own face. One afternoon, after I’d been in China ten months or so, and was used to seeing only Chinese faces, Chinese coloring, I was stunned by the bright green eyes of a Uygur man sitting on the steps of the Moslem restaurant. I stopped and stared. He grinned, laughed, and pointed at my eyes. I’m sure I blushed, and we both laughed. 

I got used to the idea that I wasn’t completely human in the minds of many of the people I encountered there in the Middle Kingdom. Most people who approached us on the street either wanted to practice English or change renminbi to Waiwei Qian. There were times when we were pushed, shoved, and called names. One night someone threw rocks at us as we waited for a tram. Events like this said, “Yankee, go home.” I guess these events could be labeled “racist,” but I didn’t see them that way. Nonetheless, it was unpleasant and somewhat scary.

Having worked as a paralegal in a law firm for three years before I escaped the clerical jungle for the PRC (People’s Republic of China), I understood something of law in general. We carried with us paperwork that said we were Chinese and had jobs that were beneficial to China’s modernization. “Ma Sa and Ji Mu” were our legal identities. There was nothing I could do about my appearance or the fact that, for some Chinese, the devil has my coloring. The potential may have existed for an “international incident,” but friendliness, openness, and the willingness to speak even bad Chinese was usually enough to disarm anyone. Walking away worked, too.

We spent our last day in China in Shanghai from where we would fly to San Francisco. Shanghai was comparatively cosmopolitan, and I didn’t expect to create a disturbance that attracted the police. My heart was full of the journey ahead of me, the journey “home.” I wanted to take in every remaining moment of China. After a full day of sightseeing, I just wanted to walk around, savoring Shanghai’s vibrant street life. 

We were walking in the neighborhood near our downtown hotel. On a blistering August evening, no sane Shanghainese was going to stay in a tiny, dark, sweltering apartment. Everyone had pulled out folding chairs and tables, set up charcoal stoves for tea and dinner, and sat fanning themselves, talking, laughing, spitting, cooking. Sidewalk life poured into the street, leaving a lane for pedestrians and bicycles. As we passed, someone noticed my eyes. I heard it again, this time in Shanghai inflected Mandarin, “Like a cat!” EVERYONE stopped what they were doing and came to look at me. I stood calmly while they looked and asked me questions. “Where did you come from?” “What are you doing in China?” Meanwhile traffic couldn’t move through the intersection. 

The cops came and broke up the “riot,” scolded me, and told us to move along. We went back to our hotel, surprised that in Shanghai, which even then had far more foreigners than did Guangzhou, no one seemed to have seen green eyes before. 


The featured photo is from 2008, when I was the lead singer for The Cure. 😀
Also, this is a chapter from As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder, my book about teaching in China in 1982/83



I was laid off in 1974. That was one crazy year in my life ANYWAY but the night the layoffs took effect was the pinnacle of craziness.

I was fresh out of university with the highly desirable BA in English. After months of searching I found a job on the line at Head Ski. I didn’t realize it was seasonal work (nothing about that in the newspaper ad). I worked swing shift (which I ended up liking) cleaning the edges of finished skis. After a while, because I was talented, I got promoted to measuring flex and camber, pairing skis, burning serial numbers on the sides and bagging them in the cotton fish net (oh baby) in which they were shipped. It was a raise in pay, too, which was good, because I was supporting the First X who was still in school.

This went on a couple of months then the pink slips were passed out during break at 6 pm. “We’ll hire you back as openings become available.”

That last day started early. My mom came to get me in Boulder, all the way from Denver, to take me and my grandmother to Loveland for my great-uncle’s funeral. I was dressed up in a skirt my mom had made me and a nice sweater. After the funeral there was lunch and then hanging around. My mom dropped me off at the factory at 3, and I was still wearing my fancy clothes. I had jeans to change into, but no other top.

Factory work is physical work and there were some pretty extreme chemicals in there. My polyester sweater was soaking it all in, believe me. At “lunch” the plan was we would all — all of us being laid off and those in solidarity with us — were going in the parking lot to get high. Afterwards? Well, we stood for the next four hours filing the throats of the tennis rackets to baby-bottomed smoothness. At 11 we were set free. We were all going to a bar on Pearl Street.

I didn’t have a car, but that’s when I learned that Jeff — the CUTEST guy on the line — was interested in me. He took me to the bar in his red VW, treated me like a date, bought me tequila sunrise after tequila sunrise and ignored everyone else. At 2, the bar closed.

Pearl Street was then just a street in a small city. We got to the car and Jeff opened the door. As he was closing it, four guys who were engaged in a fight, came roiling by. Jeff — who was a little stringy dude — chased two of them away but the other two were still fighting by the car. I sat there in a semi-drunken, exhausted, chemical fazed stupor as one guy smashed the face of the other guy into the window behind which I sat.

“Assholes,” said Jeff, after chasing the guy away and getting in the car.

I thought I should have been horrified by what I’d seen, but I couldn’t summon up horror. I was too tired, too high and too drunk to really care that there was blood all over the window.

We got to the parking lot of my apartment and that’s when Jeff made his move. “I don’t know how things are between you and your husband, but, you know, anyway here’s my phone number.”

And he kissed me.

Fact is, life with the First X was pretty awful, and I didn’t know how to contend with that. Still, I didn’t imagine cheating on him with Jeff or anyone. I went upstairs, took off my clothes and crawled into bed. 3 am. Without meaning to, I woke up my husband.

“Good God!” said the soon to be X, “You stink. Go take a shower!”

The next day I started looking for a job. A couple of days later, I called Jeff.


The Bear Report

Just took Bear to the vet to learn why she is limping. She has reduced muscle mass in her shoulders, and the doc thinks she might have a couple of compressed vertebrae in her neck, a common problem in giant breed dogs. The symptoms appear as the dog ages.

It’s a depressing reality that a giant breed dog at 5 years old is older than a normal dog at 5 years old. Bear now has pain meds, and we don’t have to do anything different than we do anyway. Otherwise Bear is in very good condition and was loved on by everyone. 

Some of the people at the vet have known Bear since she was a puppy and were very glad to see her (me too, I think). 

Sonnet 64:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras’d
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

It was weird at the vet. I’m obviously 70ish and not absolutely normal walking. One of the techs asked me how I could handle such a big dog. I was flummoxed. I’ve had big dogs as long as I’ve had dogs. Bear is always aware of me, even if she pulls ahead, she stops and looks back. She’s pulled me down ONCE in her whole life and that’s because I didn’t let go when I should have when a dog was charging her and barking at her (on leash). I thought about people and their dogs. When Bear and I walk, we walk together. We’re both engaged in something that makes each of us happy individually but is enriched because we’re together. It’s been like that for me with all my dogs, but Bear most of all.

I don’t know that it’s about controlling a dog as much as understanding the dog. Teddy is learning, but he has a way to go. Still, he’s only a year old. It takes time to know your dog.

My theory of dog training is you teach your dog what he/she needs to know to be safe in the world of people and otherwise, you just cooperate. Bear was really beautifully behaved at the vet. I don’t know. Everyone thinks their dog is extraordinary, but I think Bear might be objectively extraordinary. These dogs are bred to be calm and aware of their environment at all times. That’s translated for me into a dog that’s almost a friend as much as a pet.

Garden of the Joyous Beans

My poet beans are doing well so far, at least Li Bai, Tu Fu, Li Ho and Bai Juyi are doing well. Little Wang Wei is struggling in the front yard having gotten a late start. He’s trying to grow in a far more exposed location. These beans like to be sheltered from the wind. I guess Wang Wei has been banished to the frontier as was the case with all of these poet beans at some point in their careers as public servants.

The tallest bean is Li Bai which is fitting as he was — and still is — China’s most beloved poet. The next tallest is Tu Fu, Li Bai’s life-long friend. Li Ho is pursuing an independent growth pattern between his two squash consorts. Between Li Bai and Tu Fu is Bai Juyi who started later but is rapidly catching up.

Thoughts on a Night Journey
Tu Fu

Reeds by the bank bending, stirred by the breeze,
High-masted boat advancing alone in the night,
Stars drawn low by the vastness of the plain,
The moon rushing forward in the river’s flow.

How should I look for fame to what I have written?
In age and sickness, how to continue to serve?
Wandering, drifting, what can I take for a likeness?
–A gull that wheels alone between earth and sky.

trans. Cyril Birch